Star Quality

Time to introduce you to a stalwart of my warm-up and muscle conditioning prescriptions – the side plank with star.

The traditional side plank

Your standard side plank, or side bridge, is a bit of an unsung hero. It seems to carry the perception that it’s a low-level oblique exercise that is reserved for the type of people who bring their own mat to the gym. In reality, the side plank is so much more.

Glutes and QL

During the side plank you have to fight against gravity to stop your hips sinking to the floor. Therefore, to stay locked in place, we must produce an anti-lateral flexion moment at the trunk, and an anti-adduction moment at the hip. Both of these moments are concentrated on the side closest to floor.

The QL

The anti-lateral flexion moment is where your oblique activation comes from in the side plank, but we certainly should not overlook the contribution of the quadratus lumborum (QL). Dysfunction of the QL is strongly implicated in a range of conditions, most notably lower back pain, and it is not greatly challenged during sagittal plane lifting. It always makes sense to give this postural dynamo a little extra attention.

Glutes

Ah, the good old glutes. I’m sure I don’t need to outline the important of the glutes in both injury prevention and performance. All portions of the glutes facilitate an abduction moment at the hip, but it’s the smaller gluteus medius and gluteus minimus that we looking to get after here; the big boy gluteus maximus gets a lot from the pure extension moments associated with sagittal plane lifting.

The star factor

Now, the side plank with star is a completely different ball game. Elevating the leg adds a whole heap of extra abduction wonderfulness to the mix! First off, you’re getting an abduction moment on the top hip that wasn’t there with the base level side plank. Secondly, you’re elevating the centre of mass and increasing the moment arm for the lower hip to work against.

Star performance

Two ways you can perform this little beauty:

  • For reps (12 – 15 reps to get you going)
  • For time (30 seconds is a good start point)

Either way, it’s pretty damn challenging if you’ve not done it before. Don’t be too disheartened if you can’t hit these numbers straight off the bat.

Star plus

Not hard enough for you as it is?

  • Up the abduction moment by looping a mini-band around your ankle
  • Increase the demands imposed upper body by holding a dumbbell in your hand and performing a lateral raise

You can thank me for these tomorrow.

As a diagnostic

One of the tests I utilise in my physical competency screening is a traditional side plank hold. Indeed, in last month’s Research Review I featured a study linking this diagnostic to lower back pain in elite tennis players. You should definitely sign up for Research Review by the way, it’s bloody good!

My green flag criteria for the side plank is typically:

  • 120 second hold
  • < 5 % discrepancy between sides

Naturally this assumes no pain, proper form and does vary a little based on the specific sport and population.

A* or red flag?

I’m currently toying with the idea of changing my diagnostic to the star variation for some of my higher level athletes. Not certain what my criteria is at the moment, still need to get some more baselines on this, but I’m thinking at the moment:

  • Green flag – > 60 second hold
  • Red flag – < 30 second hold

Why not give it a try and let me know what you think to these targets!

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